Dont-Suck-the-Life-Out-of-LifeFor the last couple of years I’ve been very public with my annual personal goals, including progress reports along the way as to how successful (or not) I am in achieving them. I’m not going to run down item by item the goal list from last year. Suffice it to say that I met or exceeded some and didn’t achieve others. If you’re curious about what they were, you’ll find posts about them here, here, here, and here. Instead, I want to write today about the overall lesson learned from 2014 that relates significantly to the goal effort. Here it is:

Don’t be so goal oriented that you suck the life out of life.

My first time for setting a long list of personal goals related to body, mind and spirit was in 2013. It went really well, so it’s no surprise I did it again in 2014. But we weren’t many months into the year before I felt overwhelmed. All of the goals were in addition to my work and volunteer efforts, and it was simply exhausting to try to stay up with all of them. I needed more rest, more sleep, more down time not focused on a never-ending to-do list.

While I made a mid-year correction and lowered the bar on some goals, that still wasn’t enough to put me at ease. I still wasn’t getting enough sleep. I ended the last few months of the year choosing a couple of the goals most meaningful and worked on them while letting the others go. My body, mind and spirit needed the break. It was the right thing to do. I had put so much emphasis on a long, ambitious list of what I wanted to get done that I had succeeded in sucking the life out of life. Surely that wasn’t good for me or anyone else around me.

So I’m determined in 2015 to take a different approach to goals for the year. There will be no long list of goals for body, mind and spirit. I’ll still continue the personal behaviors that have by now become important regular habits (getting in 10,000 steps per day 3 days per week, reading through the Bible in a version or study edition different than one I’ve read before, and spending time weekly on 100 Bible memory verses). But the only other goals will be very simple – getting more sleep daily than I averaged in 2014 (trying for 7.5 instead of 6.5 hours nightly), finishing the books I intended to read last year but didn’t complete, and being more intentional about serving my church and others rather than setting self-focused goals.

I recall a sermon by my former Associate Pastor Kris Billiter from January 2014 when he suggested we set other-oriented goals rather than self-focused ones. That message stuck with me throughout 2014, so I’m taking it to heart. I want to be a better person – not just someone who does a lot of stuff. Drastically reducing self-focused goals and saying “yes” to opportunities to serve others while still reserving enough time for adequate rest will be my basic plan.

I’ve always been a task-oriented person. Plans and goals and checklists fit me well. That isn’t the case with all people. But there is a point where too many to-do items just suck the life out of life. I reached that point in 2014 and have no intention of doing so this year. In fact, I’ve already scheduled one day per week for vacation every week from January through March, plus a full week off in February for the heck of it. I’m writing this post on the first of those restful, stay-at-home days where I slept late, read, played with the dog, spent a couple hours at church helping with our youth program, and now am finishing a blog post.

2015 is off to a good start. You’re welcome to hold me accountable if you like. I hope your year is both productive and meaningful at a deeper, personal, more satisfying level than mere checklists can guarantee.

Don’t suck the life out of life. It’s too precious.

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Buzzwords always abound in businesses. Each year sees new ones come and (if we are lucky) a few worn ones disappear. After all, Buzzword Bingo exists for a reason! Some of the most annoying to me are using verbs as nouns such as in “That’s a good ask.” Why not use the word “question” or “request” as the correct noun in that situation instead of misusing the word “ask”? Who knows how many years I’ve endured hearing people tell someone to “reach out” to someone at work when a simple “contact” will do the trick. You start “reaching out” to me at work and I’m calling HR on you!

So pardon me for a few paragraphs while I go on a somewhat controlled rant about a currently popular phrase that is so grossly overused and abused I feel I must take a stand. The term is “thought leader” or “thought leadership.”

The phrase isn’t new, of course, but it has become so commonly misused that the phrase is, to me, largely meaningless any more. Here are my issues with it and with how it is used:

1. Too many companies and individuals set a goal of becoming a thought leader in some field. They want to start blogging or publishing or public speaking or some combination of public activities with the explicit hope of being considered a thought leader. This seems completely backward to me. Their mistaken focus seems to be on the accolades and reputation they hope to earn because of their actions rather than the quality of the actions and benefit to others that comes as a result of their work. I’ve even heard the ridiculous discussion of whether or not the content for such “thought leadership” articles should be original or contracted out to an agency! What!? If you don’t have the ability to think your own thoughts enough to get them in writing, then you aren’t a thought leader even in your own company (maybe even in your own head), much less in any industry.

2. Any entity that refers to itself as a thought leader isn’t one. If I see “thought leader” in your Twitter or LinkedIn profile, I will not follow or connect with you. I do not care what you have to say because my first impression is that you are simply pompous and full of yourself. On the other hand, if it is others who are calling you a thought leader, then perhaps I’ll be impressed with their assessments and pay attention to what you say, but not if you are the one using it to describe yourself. Humility is a good thing. Learn it.

3. Companies cannot produce thought leaders en masse. For example, a colleague and I have been exploring employee advocacy software options over recent weeks. I can’t count how many times sales reps from the companies have tried to sell their products on the notion that we are helping employee advocates of our company become thought leaders through the use of it. Well, sorry again, but when the advocacy program largely depends on retweeting and reposting content we suggest with perhaps minor personal edits, that doesn’t make anyone a thought leader. Since when does retweeting others make anyone a thought leader? And since when did a single company have thousands of thought leaders as employees? Come on, people. Get real.

Here is my point: “Thought leader” is a title earned and bestowed by others as a result of unique, innovative, exemplary work over time. It is not a goal that anyone concerned with actually doing good work will waste time pursuing. It is never a term you should use for yourself.

Should you be so fortunate as to have others consider you a thought leader and refer to you that way, then accept their compliment with humility, be grateful that you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on others, and go on about the business of doing your very best work. History and others are far more likely to accurately describe you, your work, and its impact than you will yourself.

So go out there and do your best every single day. Only be concerned with that. Let others decide who they consider thought leaders to be. Don’t waste your time (or mine) associating the term with yourself. That’s for others to decide after you’ve earned it.

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thankitforwardWhen my professional colleagues at The Community Roundtable started posting their “Thank It Forward” posts recently, thereby recognizing three specific people or groups that have made a difference in their lives this year, I knew I wanted to do the same. So it’s taken me a while to think through it and come up with this post. My three who have had the greatest impact on me this year are from all parts of my life, so it’s an unlikely trio, but a meaningful one to me.

The first person I want to thank for his impact on me this year is my new pastor, Mark Williams. I cannot adequately express how thrilled I am to have this man as my pastor. He is a kind, loving, gracious soul who is profoundly committed to proclaiming the Word of God and calling others to a life of faithful service to Christ. He is wise far beyond his 31 years with a wisdom that can only come from the Spirit of God within. When he preaches, you know you are hearing the truth of the gospel. He is not out to impress others or dictate to others or to draw attention to himself. He is a servant of his Lord and an incredibly gifted and faithful proclaimer of truth.

It is important to me that I deeply respect my pastor. Life has been a bit out of whack in times past when there has been some tension between a pastor and me. That’s not a good situation and not one I care to repeat. I respect the role of pastor and want the relationship to reflect that respect. Mark makes it easy for me to do that because we are united around a common purpose and cause and desire. I would be quite content to learn from this man for the rest of my days on this earth. He makes me want to be a better person in general and a better Christian in particular. I know my own relationship with Christ ought to produce those same desires and it does, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have a key person in the flesh that draws you in that direction as well. I thank God for Mark Williams and look forward to his continued influence on me, our church and our community.

The second person I want to thank is my bride of 35.5 years, Linda. I don’t know anyone who works as hard as she does. While her role as kitchen hostess at church and self-employed caterer is officially part-time, she sure does seem to be going at one or the other full-time. And if she isn’t absorbed in those activities, she’s gardening or doing yard work or something else – anything but resting (which she really ought to do more of). Anyone who knows us can tell you how different we are. That has always been the case. In fact, we lost some college “friends” when we got engaged in 1978 for that very reason. They worried that we were so different that it would never work for us to be married and they simply could not and would not give their blessing to it. Well, 35.5 years later, I would beg to differ with their assessment. That doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye or have no issues, but we’ve learned to keep the main things the main things and not elevate minor differences to a loftier level of attention than they deserve.

I want to thank Linda for loving me all these years, for continuing to do the less-than-glamorous things that come with managing a home and family, for forgiving me when I have been self-absorbed or downright thoughtless or mean or stupid, for being an absolute rock of faithfulness and consistency for the entire time I have known her from my sophomore year of college through the present, and for being the mother of our two sons and grandmother to the newest generation of Rosses. I cannot imagine life without her, and I am thankful now and forever for her.

The third person I want to call out in my #thankitforward this year is my manager at Humana, Lewis Bertolucci. Lewis took a chance in late 2011 by adding me to his Enterprise Social Media team at work when there were not originally plans to have that team own the internal social media function I manage so much as the external, customer-focused media. Lewis is a remarkable person who knows more about the field than I ever will. He can’t possibly sleep much and still juggle all the things he has his hands in. It’s no wonder he was included in a recent list of the top 100 digital marketing experts. Don’t even think about trying to match his Klout score!

There are so many things I appreciate about Lewis as my manager. He is open and honest and I can discuss whatever I need to discuss with him. He trusts me to do my work and has no inclination to micromanage me or others. He is funny and creative and will blindside you with a funny photoshopped picture or JibJab video and seems to have funny animated GIFs ready for all occasions to throw into online discussions. He keeps his cool in the midst of what I know are very stressful, demanding days at work. He thinks of others more than he thinks of himself. He can write out the best, thoughtful, reasoned response to situations where others would be tempted to respond quickly and emotionally. He gives wise counsel that others (including me) would do well to heed. He is supportive and encouraging to his team. And as is shown by the expanded role he offered me in August this year, he is eager to see those he supervises grow into their potential, even when that means they leave the team for other roles as some did in 2013. Like my pastor mentioned above who is in his early 30s, Lewis is also wise beyond his years and has earned the deep respect I have for him as a person and as a manager. I am fortunate to have him and hope to learn from him for many years to come.

So there you have the three people from different areas of my life who I am most thankful for in 2014.

I won’t end this post, though, without also recognizing the one professional organization that has also been very significant for me this year as well – The Community Roundtable. I have enjoyed being a member of this organization of online community professionals for several years, but this year the connection stepped up a notch when they graciously agreed to take over the reins of the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat which I started in 2013. They are doing a great job with the chat and will continue to innovate and do things with it that I as an individual could never do. I am deeply appreciative of their willingness to do this. I know the work involved in making it successful and worthwhile week after week. It is no small task. Thank you, Hillary Boucher, Rachel Happe, Shannon Abram, Jim Storer and all the wonderful people at TheCR! You do amazing work that is very much appreciated by many.

What about you? For whom would you #thankitforward for their impact on you in 2014?

Better-NotBitterNone of us have the luxury of experiencing life without some bad things happening from time to time. Granted, some people seem to have a dark cloud that hovers over them a little more frequently than the rest of us, but all of us probably have more negative experiences than we’d like. (Do we want any negative experiences? I don’t think so.)

You can tell a lot about someone by how he/she reacts to those less-than-pleasant and even tragic events of life. Some may seem to surrender all hope for the future and forever consider themselves victims with no way out. Others may fail to even acknowledge the negative and go on rather blindly choosing not even to notice or react to events. Still others may hover somewhere in between the first two by acknowledging and dealing with the negative, but then making every effort to move past it and move forward with life, having learned from the experience in some way. It’s the old “lemons into lemonade” response.

I tend to be more optimistic than not the majority of the time. There are various reasons for that:

  • Life is more enjoyable focusing on the positive than on the negative.
  • I don’t like being around people who are overly negative, so I don’t want to be like that.
  • My Christian faith provides an underlying hope for this life and the next that surpasses anything temporarily negative I experience.

We can’t always choose our circumstances in life, but we can make the most of wherever we are. We can and do choose the attitudes we carry in circumstances – for good or bad. We have the option of learning from experiences, choosing to leave the past in the past, and building on our new situation for the future.

As for the attitudes we respond with when bad things happen, doesn’t it make a lot more sense to respond by trying to be a better person as a result and by trying to make life better because of what happened instead of being bitter and living with the ongoing drain on life, emotions, and health that bitterness yields? I’m not claiming it’s always easy to do that, nor am I presuming that it is possible merely through one’s own strength to do so, but I’m certain it’s the more promising path.

When bad things happen, be better – not bitter.

Im-Not-Thankful-EnoughThis week has been a mixed bag of emotions for me. With the American Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, there have certainly been more than the usual number of moments reflecting on all for which I am thankful. But some of the week was dominated by other less-than-admirable emotions of anger, of disgust with what I was watching in the news, and of times when I spoke or wrote out of those emotions when I should have probably just kept my thoughts to myself.

What I should have demonstrated for the week was an ongoing attitude of gratitude. What I actually demonstrated was a far cry from that. I resonated immediately, therefore, with my friend, Jay’s, post on Facebook last night when he wrote, “I’m thankful, but not often enough. It’s good to have a day to be reminded.”

I really do have so much to be thankful for:

  • a family who loves me and whom I love;
  • my first grandson and second grandchild on the way, due in April;
  • a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood in a city we’ve enjoyed living in for almost 30 years;
  • a job and career that is fun and fulfilling and a joy to invest my time and professional life in daily;
  • all the food and necessities of life a man needs – so much more than what is typical throughout the world;
  • a country that in spite of its challenges is where I prefer to live;
  • good health that allows me to do what I want when and where I want;
  • a church and church family I have loved since our second week in Louisville in 1985;
  • a relationship with the living God that provides ultimate meaning, purpose and hope for this life and the next;
  • the opportunity to freely read, study and apply God’s Word to my life;
  • opportunities to serve God and others every week in a variety of ways;
  • and even the best canine friend and companion I’ve ever had in my nearly 58 years.

When I look at the above list, I am in awe at the blessings I enjoy. And I am simultaneously embarrassed by the times I allow an unhealthy focus on other matters to steal that joy. I am ashamed that I could for a moment look past these giant gifts only to focus elsewhere. I regret that I fail to be a consistent source of a good and encouraging word to others, choosing instead to sound off about my latest emotional reaction to news or events of the day. I feel remorse for getting angry at those with whom I disagree rather than seeking to understand and show the love of Christ in the midst of those differences. I realize after the fact far too often that I have failed to be Christ’s ambassador when I spew from my mouth the venom that I allow to fester in my heart, for “the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matthew 12:34), and that overflow is too often sewage rather than life-giving water.

So on this day after Thanksgiving, please know that this ongoing work in progress called Jeff is truly grateful and thankful for so much. Also know that I am truly sorry for those moments when I am far less than what I can and should be. I am called to be conformed to His image, and I have a long, long way to go.